The Billings Outpost

Foster parents can fill urgent needs for kids

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

If anybody knows about the importance of foster parents, it is Lisa LaMere.

LaMere, who now licenses foster parents through Youth Dynamics, spent the first 14 years of her life with her parents and seven siblings. Since her parents were frequently using drugs and alcohol, the care of her siblings fell to her. When her parents were sent to jail in 1995, LaMere was separated from her family and spent two years in the foster system.

One of the homes she lived in for a while belonged to a woman named Ruth.

“She was so sweet and kind and made me feel not like an outcast, but just like any other kid in her house,” LaMere said. “I’m still in contact with her, and she calls me her daughter even though she’s African-American and I’m obviously not her kid.”

With more than 3,000 Montana children entering foster care each year, there is a growing need for people like Ruth to step up and become therapeutic foster parents.

“The need is still there,” said LaMere.“We have way less foster parents than we’ve ever had, but the number of foster children is growing.”

She continued, “I had four referrals this week for kids that needed homes and I had to say no to all of them. This means that the kids will probably be moved to somewhere outside the Billings area away from their families or moved to a higher level of care like a group home. It’s really disheartening to know that there are four kids out there that we could have helped if we only had the homes for them.”

Whereas most foster parents are registered through the state, Youth Dynamics specifically registers therapeutic foster parents who are assigned to help children with mental health and behavioral issues.

“Our kids that are placed in these homes are more intense,” LaMere said. “They have all received a mental health diagnosis and need more support services such as medication management and therapy.”

Foster care myths

According to LaMere, “Most people have thought about being a foster parent for two years before actually taking that step.”

Many prospective foster parents have legitimate concerns – such as whether they’ll be able to provide adequately for a child.

However, many concerns fall into the category of “foster care myths.”

“We’ve all seen the horror movies where it’s the foster kid who burns down the house and does all these awful things,” she said. “You watch ‘Law and Order’ and usually it’s a foster kid who commits this horrendous crime. There are kids out there like that, but the vast majority of them are kids that just need a loving home to bring them in.”

And, unlike what many people think, there are very few restrictions on who can be a foster parent.

“You don’t have to have kids already to be a foster parent,” she said. “You don’t even have to be married. I’ve licensed some great couples that aren’t married and I’ve also licensed some awesome single moms and dads.”

In the end, LaMere says, the most important things that prospective foster parents need are “the skills, ability and heart” to take care of these hurting children.

“I’m looking for all sorts of different people. I know that there are awesome and amazing people out there that can provide care to these kids.”

‘Step Up’

Though foster care has a notoriously low success fate, there are still many success stories. One of these is LaMere’s.

After her mother attempted and failed to regain custody of LaMere when she was 16, her social worker gave her special permission to live on her own. She then finished high school and went to Montana State University Billings to receive her bachelor’s degree in human services. She is now working toward her master’s degree in mental health counseling and vocational rehabilitation.

However, for every success story like LaMere’s, there are multiple stories of children who are still struggling.

“I check the jail website and see the names of foster kids that I worked with years ago,” LaMere said. “I’ve had past foster kids who now have their own kids in the system. But my hope is that by the end of my career, I can say I’ve made a positive difference in the lives of at least three kids. It’s better than doing nothing at all.”

Though foster care’s low success rate can be daunting, La Mere feels that the best way to combat this is for “people to step up.”

One way they can do this is by becoming a foster parent. After filling out paperwork and undergoing background checks, potential foster parents will go through 33 hours of training in order to help them know how to best meet the needs of the children in their care.

Even after the training is over, the team at Youth Dynamics is happy to work with foster parents to make sure that they are receiving the support they need.

“We don’t want people to fail,” La Mere said. “We don’t want the foster parents to fail, and we don’t want the kids to fail. We’re not setting them up for failure.”

Even those who aren’t ready to be foster parents can step up to make Billings a more welcoming community – not just for foster families, but for everyone.

“If there’s a kid on your baseball team who doesn’t have cleats, be his mentor and buy him the shoes,” La Mere suggested. “Instead of being the person who complains about the baby screaming at Walmart, be the person who offers to help hold the baby while the mom loads her bags into the car. Being a kind and conscientious person in the community is one of the best things you can do.”

If you are interested in learning more about being a therapeutic foster parent, contact Lisa LaMere at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 245-6539.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:07

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Summit fires up students

Rocky Mountain College

A three-day student leadership summit energized 59 Rocky Mountain College student-leaders a week before classes, high in a mountain valley at the United Methodist-affiliated Camp on the Boulder River.

The summit honored myriad ways that people learn. Several sessions taught the student-leaders to help younger students recognize psychology behind personal connections, exemplary followership as a path to leadership, autonomy support, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and student-leader roles as they relate to new student orientation.

The students shared small group and whole group team-building activities including a half-day of low ropes courses led by students who participated in three additional days of challenge activities and ropes course training before they attended the summit. Katie Carpenter (’07), associate dean of student life, and Tim Lohrenz (’01), director of adventure recreation, led the second year of the summit, while Tim’s wife, Cara Lohrenz (’06), director of student activities, coordinated logistics.

“We hosted more students this year,” said Tim Lohrenz. “We also revised our programming to give students more time to bond as a group and process the material Katie and I presented.”

Group participants discovered each others’ student initiatives in hours of mutual questioning.

“We had a very intentional outcome this year of letting them unwind from summer and get to know each other,” said Carpenter. Participants also trained to help lead new student orientation at RMC the following week. 

Attendees included leaders of campus activities such as residence hall assistants, members of ASRMC student government, and an editor of the Summit, the RMC student newspaper. Summit editor Emma King (’17) reported, “Amazing, crazy; I’m exhausted.”

Resident assistant Nick Pedersen (’17) of Billings called the summit “awesome, incredible, perfect.”

 The lessons he took home will help him support his freshmen, he said.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 September 2014 13:06

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Rocky volleyball wins AVCA academic award

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Rocky Mountain College volleyball team was one of 33 NAIA teams in the United States to receive the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award this year.

This is the seventh straight year that the team garnished this award. Only 5 percent of the NAIA teams qualified.

The award, which was initiated in the 1992-1993 academic year, honors collegiate and high school volleyball teams that display excellence in the classroom during the school year by maintaining at least a 3.30 cumulative team grade point average on a 4.00 scale.

“I am very proud of our team again this year. We pride ourselves on the success of our program in part that we have scholar-athletes and [that we] take the classroom and the court very seriously,” said Rocky Coach Laurie Kelly.

“Too often athletic participation is associated with academic underachievement, and this stereotype is simply false when it comes to volleyball,” said AVCA Executive Director Kathy DeBoer. “Couple the smarts represented by these teams with the competitive experience and team-focused training gained on the court, and we have a potent formula for future leadership. What a significant contribution that is by their coaches and schools.”

Members of the academic team include Jayde Hair, Ahlea Billis, Jennifer Donaldson, Tori Bertsch, Elli Hellerud, Mariah Stiffarm, Yang Yang, Sky Gabel, Kylie Nielsen, Anna Dewald, Brooke Myers, BrieAnna Geck and Kacie Stone.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:30

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Girl Scouts looking for volunteers

Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming is in need of volunteers and troop leaders in Billings. Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming covers over 245,000 square miles, 79 counties and in our council area there are more than 128,000 girls that need a positive role model in their lives, a news release said.

Girl Scouts is the No. 1 leadership organization for girls and women in the world, the release said, but girls need volunteers and troop leaders to guide them.

Every girl has the ability to lead, but only one girl in five believes she can. A lack of role models, unhealthy images of beauty, peer pressure to not stand out, and a mean-girl culture are just some of the obstacles that stand between girls and their full potential, the release said.

Volunteering opportunities with Girl Scouts are tailored to fit your schedule, your skills, and your interests, the release said. Your time as a volunteer will help girls pursue whatever interests, causes, and leadership roles that are most important to them.

Sign up at www.gsmw.org.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:29

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Montana colleges rank as overall best in U.S.

HELENA – According to a “Smart Rating” developed by FindTheBest, Montana has the best overall colleges in the United States. 

“From the Montana University System, to our tribal colleges, to our private colleges, we’ve always known our schools provide Montanans with a world-class education,” said Gov. Steve Bullock. “I’m proud that our state is being recognized for the incredible work our colleges and universities do to prepare the leaders of the future.”

Founded in 2009, FindTheBest has a goal of “collecting all the world’s data” and synthesizing that into a usable format that provides users with “everything [they] need to research with confidence.” 

According to their website, (www.findthebest.com), they help “23 million monthly visitors research thousands of topics with confidence.”

The ratings consider admission selectivity, academic excellence, the opinions of experts and affordability.

Former chairman of the Board of Regents and current Lt. Gov. Angela McLean said, “During my time as chair of the Board of Regents, I witnessed first-hand the remarkable work being done in our colleges and universities. Education is a top priority of our administration, and we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that Montana remains the best state in the nation to obtain an education.”

One of the pillars of Gov. Bullock’s Main Street Montana Project is: Train and Educate Tomorrow’s Workforce Today. Key to that effort is aligning Montana’s educational system with the needs of a changing economy, creating partnerships between our colleges and universities, and the private sector, and providing a lifetime continuum of quality education – from pre-school through adulthood. 

Montana’s colleges and universities are already engaged in that effort, and that engagement is expected to grow in the coming years.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said, “Our dedicated professors and support staff in Montana have top-notch credentials and world-class talent. But even more, they just roll up their sleeves and work hard to help students succeed.”

West Virginia and Maine tied Montana for the top spot, also receiving a score of 78.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 August 2014 15:28

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Fuissaint does everything with all his heart

Rocky Mountain College

PETERSON FUSSAINTLanguage was the least of his adaptations when senior business management major Peterson Fussaint arrived at Rocky Mountain College from Haiti in 2010, but his perspective has helped him thrive.

“In my culture, if an old man or an old lady’s carrying something, you run to help. Here, they separate themselves. There is a lot of process. My experience here makes me respect other people’s culture and perspective. Montana is accepting, but also has stereotypes. People ask ‘Are you an athlete?’” he said. And he is not.

“I have a completely different, opposite culture, not just to America, but to other countries too. But the expectation of Montana is that everybody is OK with the way I act.”

That was a blessing for him. He already spoke French, Creole and English. “I knew a lot of vocabulary, but the way you guys flow – I didn’t have that. ‘You betcha’? That was new.

“In my culture, people, when they meet a woman, [they] kiss on the cheek. I ignored culture here, kept being me, but some people here found that awkward. I was adapting the hard way.

“People say I have a good smile. When I smile, it’s a true smile. A lot of people smile as a barrier. The U.S. is the greatest country in history, but inside of it, there is not enough trusting. Even at RMC, some are more approachable than others, even though they’re all good people.”

His closest advisers at Rocky Mountain College have since died. The honest humor and outreach of the late Kristi Foster, RMC chaplain when Fussaint arrived as a freshman, knit him into the community.

“She told me to dream in English,” he remembers.

He also lost Michael West, a former director of international programs who assisted his transition from Haiti. “He was a great friend, a mentor, director and a great adviser,” Fussaint said.

But Fussaint has been to many funerals. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake in which as many as hundreds of thousands of people perished, he worked as a translator for volunteer medical teams.

“In Haiti, our funerals are more emotional; we are more attached. For church, we are really serious about it,” he said. His faith work led him to accept the opportunity that summer to come to RMC, sponsored by two Montana medical professionals he worked with.

Fussaint changed his major twice because “I did not see myself in them. I thought I was going to be in computer science, I switched to aviation management, and I was not familiar with a lot of stuff associated with this major. I took a deep breath and thought about something that would fit me and my personality. Since business management is pretty broad, I can situate myself anywhere.” He likes his decision.

Now a senior, Fussaint took his realism into his 2014 internship in management training at Enterprise Car Rental. He said, “You are always responsible. They want to hire a decision-maker, someone who can make a good decision. I have figured out that I’m at a really great college – because RMC taught me [how to manage] small group communication, group projects and work under pressure.

“We have to compromise in order to complete a project, with employees from Montana, Las Vegas, Tennessee, Ohio and Haiti. There’s some accent going on, too. That makes me feel strong in this internship. Some think inside the box, but Rocky taught me to think outside the box – to flow – to get it done. I’m not afraid to fail now, to come back stronger.

“I listen to everybody. Not everybody listens to me. I compromise with everybody. Not everybody compromises with me. But I never take it personally; I go with the flow.”

Haiti, Fussaint reminds, has “a great history of independence. But we have a tough history with America,” which tried to occupy Haiti several times, most recently in 1919.

The legends in America, he points out, were individuals who put their genius first. “People underestimate somebody from a third world country,” he said. “We all need to put our thoughtfulness first,” he said.

For the future, his dreams are still there, but “you can’t count ‘one, three,’” Fussaint said. “The first step is to get my diploma.”

“Education comes before democracy,” he said. “There’s no good democracy without good leadership. You cannot let yourself be defined by others,” he said. If he can contribute, he’ll return to Haiti, he said, but not as a politician. “I hear everybody when they talk, but I listen to good people. I want that inside.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 August 2014 17:15

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Osprey research aids birds, undergraduates

Rocky Mountain College

Three separate prongs of research by Rocky Mountain College undergraduates are assisting osprey populations this year along the Yellowstone River. One effort has already resulted in a published paper with an RMC junior as lead author.

Ospreys are summer native “fish eagles” who eat the rich fish of the Yellowstone River while they raise chicks. About 45 nesting pairs live along the middle Yellowstone River. They winter as far as South America, and most return yearly, but face hazards from people’s activities. The studies use ospreys as biological indicators of ecological integrity of the Yellowstone River.

Renee Seacor (’16) of Ossining, N.Y., had her paper on baling twine entanglements of osprey nests published in the February Canadian Naturalist. Polypropylene twine used to wrap Montana hay bales persists through years of weather and rot. It is soft and shows up in abundance to cushion eggs in osprey nests. In three seasons, RMC Assistant Professor Kayhan Ostovar’s team found five of 178 banded fledglings entangled in nest baling twine.

Three were cut free and survived, one died, and one was euthanized. Seacor wrote, “Vigilance by citizen scientist nest monitors and assistance from power companies are the only short-term solutions to reducing mortality … from entanglement.”

Efforts to educate the public to reduce twine on the landscape will help ranchers and wool producers as well as nesting ospreys, Ostovar said, since twine hazards also negatively affect the humans’ livelihoods.

Matt DeWit (’15) of Billings is studying population distributions and nesting successes of ospreys in the Yellowstone valley. Working with citizen volunteers from Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, DeWit has tracked active and abandoned nesting sites of osprey along the Yellowstone from Gardiner to Miles City. He has mapped more than 80 nests this season.

Conducting intensive observations of randomly selected nests, DeWit can determine the food intake of individual chicks by measuring the size and type of fish that parents carry. He will then work to look for correlations in the parents’ nesting success with the chicks’ diet, distance from the fish source, water clarity, and other variables. DeWit is finding the middle Yellowstone to be a sweet spot for osprey success, possibly related to a greater diversity of fish species, abundance of nesting structures, and water clarity.

Linnea Warlick (’15) of Warren, N.J., hopes to attend veterinary school and aspires to do wildlife veterinary work professionally. Warlick works with the osprey team and Professor Marco Restani of St. Cloud State University, who helps Yellowstone River Research Center (YRRC) to take tiny blood samples from fledglings to check heavy metal loads in their blood. Since ospreys are at the top of the aquatic food chain (as are humans), they can bioaccumulate toxins and heavy metals.

After a field season of making blood slides and learning how to band and handle wild birds of prey, Warlick will look for correlations between heavy metals such as mercury or lead and the white blood cell counts on her slides. Her research is blazing potential new techniques for evaluating wildlife health.

All three student projects, managed by Ostovar, have received professional and fiscal support from the Yellowstone River Research Center and the SEED (Science Education Enhancement and Development) program at RMC, a USGS grant from the Montana Water Center, Royal Bank of Canada, Cinnabar Foundation, Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society, and many local power companies who help researchers access nests.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 12:10

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24 win scholarships at Montana 4-H Congress

MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — Twenty-four Montana 4-H youth were awarded scholarships during the annual Montana 4-H Congress at Montana State University July 8-10.

Close to 400 4-H members, volunteers and staff attended the 4-H congress from 43 Montana counties, said Brett Schomer, 4-H program and events coordinator at MSU. Nearly $23,000 in scholarship funding was awarded.

Youth participated in competitive and social events, educational workshops and a service-learning project for Ronald McDonald Houses of Montana. More than 100 4-H volunteers and Extension staff helped to coordinate activities during the three-day event. Montana 4-H also welcomed delegations from Alberta, Canada, and the Idaho 4-H program to the 84th annual leadership event. Teen 4-H leaders worked in committees to plan program details, emcee the general assemblies, and manage the event technology.

During the event, 4-H Foundation Executive Director Sandra Germann and board members presented 4-H students with various scholarship awards.

Among area winners were:

• Kyle Patten, Fergus County, won the Montana Agricultural Business Association (MABA) and the Montana Grain Elevator Association (MGEA) scholarship. Patten is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU to pursue a degree in agricultural education.

• Katherine McCleary, Big Horn County, is a 12-year 4-H member who plans to attend Yale University to pursue an anthropology or archeology degree. Some of her projects have focused on history of the 18th century. McCleary was also featured in the PBS documentary “Six Montana 4-H Stories.”

• Brittany Wetstein, Carbon County, is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend Miles Community College to receive an associate’s degree in Nursing. Wetstein has been active in her community through 4-H.

• Justin Stilson, Fergus County. Stilson is a 14-year 4-H member who currently attends MSU and is pursuing an exercise science degree. Stilson continues to be active in 4-H as the president of Collegiate 4-H. He excelled in the photography project in 4-H and has taken photos for classmates, the 4-H Foundation and the 4-H state office.

• Kelsey Smith, Cascade County, is a longtime 4-H member who is currently studying nursing at MSU. Through the state “Make It With Wool” competition, Smith earned an appearance at the national competition in Arizona. She also interned and will do research with the McLaughlin Research Institute for Biomedical Sciences.

• Tanner Engle, Sweet Grass County, earned the Montana Meat Processors Association Scholarship. Engle is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to major in agricultural business at MSU. 

• Sadie Reddick, Gallatin County, won the Douglas A. and Nancy W. Dear Memorial Scholarship. Reddick has been in 4-H for nine years and plans to attend either MSU or Oklahoma State University. She participated in 4-H equine and beef projects.

• Kourtney Schott, Stillwater County, earned the Carson Christensen Memorial Scholarship. She is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend Gonzaga University to pursue a business degree. Schott has played an integral part in directing annual Cloverbud Camps and 4-H Achievement Days. 

• Morgan Beckett, Mussellshell/Golden Valley County, received the Wilcox Family Scholarship. Beckett is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU to pursue a degree in engineering. Beckett has been active in the market swine, electricity and shooting sports projects.

• Layton Hrubes, Dawson County, won the Montana Farm Bureau Foundation scholarship. She is a 10-year 4-H member who is currently attending MSU, studying animal science and political science.

• Ellen Guyer, Carter County, received the Miller Scholarship. Guyer is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to pursue a degree in psychology at MSU. Guyer has helped plan District Mini-Congress. and hosted photography workshops.

• Layne Oliver, Gallatin County, is a nine-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Oliver has been active in the swine program for eight years and was a barn supervisor at the Gallatin County Fair for two years. 

• Elizabeth Carlson, Lewis & Clark County, is a 12-year 4-H member who plans to attend Carroll College to study mathematics. Carlson has been active in the BioScience Montana project and was also accepted to work for the Montana Space Grant Consortium.

 BOREALIS project. 

• Bethany Lacock, Valley County, is a 12-year 4-H member who plans to attend Carroll College to pursue a degree in pre-pharmacy. Lacock has also participated with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Future Farmers of America. 

• Kendra Smith, Judith Basin County, is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend Carroll College to pursue a degree in health science. Smith has run a Cloverbud project for four years and volunteered with the Stanford Cage Camp basketball camp for grades 4-8 for four years. 

The Montana 4-H Council established an endowment with the Montana 4-H Foundation to be used for leadership opportunities for Montana 4-H youth and volunteers. The $500 Montana 4-H Council Scholarship went to:The State 4-H Shooting Sports Committee sponsors a $500 4-H Shooting Sports Scholarship for a student exemplifying leadership and mentoring in shooting sports. It was awarded to:

• Barry Francis, Gallatin County, is a 12-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU-Northern in Havre to pursue a double major in Diesel Technology and Agricultural Operations Technology. Francis has represented Montana at three National Shooting

Sports Foundation tournaments and volunteers on the Manhattan Volunteer Fire Department. 

The Barbara Edens Memorial scholarship is awarded to 4-H members who have been active in the horse project and have strong leadership skills. It was awarded to:

• Alyssa Morris, Missoula County. Morris is a 10-year 4-H member, who plans to attend the University of Montana to pursue a degree in speech pathology. Morris has coordinated local cancer support events.

The Bud Dawson Livestock Scholarship offers two $500 scholarships to graduating seniors who have been active in livestock projects. The recipients are:

• Christine Patten, Lewis & Clark County, is a 10-year 4-H member who will attend MSU to study mechanical engineering. Patten has taken an average of 10 different projects each year and is currently building a woodworking project.

The Cedric & Elfriede Maurer Memorial Scholarship was established by the Maurer family to honor their parents, who farmed and ranched in Teton County and were long-time 4-H leaders.

The scholarship is awarded to 4-H members who show a dedication to 4-H, a history of volunteering and are involved in their community. Preference is given to residents of north central Montana, specifically Teton, Cascade, Choteau and Pondera counties:

• Alyssa Riley, Powder River County, is a 10-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU to study pre-veterinary science. Riley has been involved in sheep, horsemanship, quilting,

vet science, hog, and beef projects and has worked with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. 

• Joshua Pecukonis, Cascade County, is an 11-year 4-H member who plans to attend MSU to achieve a degree in environmental horticulture science. Pecukonis has been active in livestock projects and maintains a flock of 50 Navajo Churro sheep. 

The Anton and Helga Sundsted Pioneer Scholarship was established in 2011 by the Sundsted family in honor of the pioneers who settled over 100 years ago. This scholarship is for students who demonstrate entrepreneurship through 4-H projects and involvement in their community, church and school by embracing ideals of leadership, responsibility and integrity:

• Kaitlyn Goroski, Wibaux County, is a 10-year 4-H member who currently attends MSU with a major in Agriculture. Goroski makes time for Collegiate 4-H and Collegiate Young Farmers and Ranchers, and has been active in 4-H leadership from the club to state level. 

The $2,000 W. Doyle Stocks Scholarships benefit Montana students planning to attend MSU to study agriculture or family consumer science. The recipients are:

• Jennifer Greger, Gallatin County – a nine-year 4-H member who helped start a 4-H club in Gallatin County and has also competed with her sled dog team across the Northwest and in Canada. She plans to major in animal science .

• Trestin Benson, Lincoln Countys – an 11-year 4-H member who plans to major in natural resource and range ecology and pursue a career as an Extension agent. Benson has helped with the lamb project in her county and been part of the State Ambassador Officer Team. 

• Caleb Reichhardt, Silver Bow County – a 12-year 4-H member who plans to major in biotechnology in animal systems. Reichhardt is a junior leader in the rabbit and beef program and also raises shorthorn cattle.

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 August 2014 12:07

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International students find home at RMC

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime,” Mark Twain wrote in “Innocents Abroad.” Taking Twain’s view to heart, about 15 international students each year come to Rocky Mountain College, and 15 will enter in fall 2014. They are distinguished by their enterprise, acceptance, and success, said Amber West Martin, director of international programs.

RMC takes international students with pre-existing strong English language. “They come here programmatically,” said West Martin. RMC offers individualized programs that may not be part of larger schools’ student experience. Students with less English tend to funnel into IELP (English language learner) courses at Montana State University Billings, where they learn a language intensively while studying college material.

“The education you get depends on the investment you put into it,” said Evan Connolly (’15) of Tramore, Ireland, who is in his fourth year at RMC. He says the overriding lesson he would share is “you need to try this [international study]. The experience has made me a better person – my mom’ll tell you that,” he said.

Some international students find Americans provincial, but “they may not realize how big America is,” West Martin notes.

And RMC is small enough that students cannot keep company only with other international students. Before the end of their first year, students have established what West Martin calls their “secondary family” of peers, faculty, social groups, and church. International exchange is a potent diversifier for the RMC campus.

“We make it easier for international students; we have an individual outlook,” she said, that enfolds new students as individuals into a warm community. West Martin talks with all students before they have left their home, in part because she processes their immigration paperwork. The College has appraised that they will be successful before they travel, she said.

“An athlete at RMC is usually a very successful and determined student,” said West Martin. Many nations offer no options to become a collegiate athlete. Since many students need scholarships to help attend college, RMC’s international athletes tend to be achievement-oriented both academically and athletically. Soccer player Ronaldo Teixeira (’17) hails from Divinopolis, Brazil, at least six RMC ski team members grew up in Sweden, and basketball stalwart Jeremy Nicholas (’15) comes from Villepinte, France.

RMC will host several English-speaking freshmen from Africa in the fall.

“When you grew up in a small town, you don’t know anything else,” whether it’s in Montana or another nation, said Connolly. But Rocky Mountain College transforms learners whether they’re from rural communities or giant metropolises. “The reason behind my coming here was the financial aid I got. Now I expect and hope to be here the rest of my life.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 02 August 2014 10:26

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Rocky students explore religion, literature

Rocky Mountain College

No one can cram the themes of religion and literature into a month, but with radical openness and acceptance, three young Rocky Mountain College students took the summer session opportunity to study with Wilbur Wood, a poet, writer and gardener who has taught part-time at RMC for 20 years. 

Summer classes at RMC offer opportunities to take a science, math or liberal arts class such as the 300-level Religion and Literature course, co-listed in English and Philosophy and Religious Thought. Community members may also register for these RMC courses.

Wood lives where he grew up, in a stone house in Roundup that his grandfather built in 1911. At intervals, Wood was city editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian during the Vietnam War, earned a master’s degree in creative writing at San Francisco State, and gave commentary on National Public Radio. He has taught all levels of writing at RMC and serves on the Montana Arts Council.

His three students had what Wood called “considerably different experience with religion.” One student was a committed Christian, a “straight-out Lutheran,” Wood said, with six years of military service, much of it overseas, as a linguist.

The second, Alice-Marie Brady (’15) of Wray, Colo., wrote how her dogmatic Sunday school teacher had frustrated her Presbyterian heritage. The teacher argued in anger when Brady proposed, like Nikos Kazantzakis, that the Devil is God’s brother. Brady now hopes to be a screenwriter.

A third student, Danielle Wilcox (’14) of Livermore, Calif., described herself as “not a religious person,” but Wood called her “spiritual, yes.” Wilcox said the course “made me look into myself, trust ourselves a little more.”

Wood’s first assignment asked students to explain the difference between religion and spirituality, then discuss a spiritual experience of their own. Those papers began as what Wood called “a good first paragraph,” and went through three rewrites during the course. The military veteran explained, “I was surprised by how much freedom we had in writing. It was hard to narrow to a specific topic. ‘How long?’ we asked. ‘As long as it needs to be,’ he replied.”

For group poetry, written the last two weeks line by line onto the blackboard, Wilcox said, “I surprised myself. I went up and put up what I was feeling. We talk about anything in this class. We all have our own input. It’s never utterly wrong, which is nice,” she said.

All learning is self-learning, because all of our understanding goes through the filter of our own perspective. The gift of self-exploration precedes learning about the “outside” world. Yet philosophy is only useful as it applies beyond us. We come round, with enough insight or experience, to accepting our common understanding in each other’s voices. Wood said, “My role is to help, in whatever way I can, people to articulate their own perspectives.”

He likes to teach seminar-style as much as he can.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “All the way to Heaven is Heaven,” Wood reminded the class. The journey of inquiry is its own reward, and the trials of life become its joys. The class studied a few persecuted mystics from varied traditions, whose words ring true to later generations. “It’s a real

gift to have these three students and their different lives,” he said.

Four writing assignments in the month-long course each required multiple revisions in the evenings. Readings included “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, which uses a bus ride as an allegory of our journey from purgatory; “The Distracted Preacher” by Thomas Hardy, which examines issues of morality versus legality; and millennia of poetry from Robert Bly’s anthology “The Soul Is Here for its Own Joy,” which Bly almost titled “Baskets to Hold God.”

Wood meant to read “Levels of Life” by Julian Barnes, which explores ballooning as an allegory for love in its risk and alteration of perspective. Barnes dissects the reality of our mourning for the inevitable loss that follows love.

This year, Wood’s month-long class did not have time. Jay Cassel, professor of religious thought since 1983, teaches the same course at RMC in the fall with his own perspective, choice of authors, and dedication to a liberal education.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:39

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